Ned Sherrin is a satirist, novelist, anthologist, film producer, and celebrated theater director who has been at the heart of British broadcasting and the arts for more than fifty years.
I had met Diana, Princess of Wales--perhaps “I had been presented to” is more accurate--in lineups after charity shows that I had been compering and at which she was the royal guest of honor. There were the usual polite exchanges.
On royal visits backstage, Princess Alexandra was the most relaxed, on occasion wickedly suggesting that she caught a glimpse of romantic chemistry between two performers and setting off giggles. Princess Margaret was the most artistically acute, the Queen the most conscientious; although she did once sweep past me to get to Bill Haley, of whom she was a fan. Prince Edward could, at one time, be persuaded to do an irreverent impression of his older brother, Prince Charles. Princess Diana seemed to enjoy herself, but she was still new to the job and did not linger down the line.
Around this time, a friend of mine opened a restaurant in London. From one conversation, I gathered that although it was packed in the evenings, business was slow at lunchtime. Soon afterward, I got a very “cloak-and-dagger” phone call from him. He spoke in hushed tones, muttering something like “Lunch next Wednesday, small party, royal person, hush-hush.”
From this, I inferred that he wanted me and, I had no doubt, other friends to bring a small party to dress the restaurant, to which he was bringing the “royal person” in a bid to up its fashionable appeal during the day.
When Wednesday dawned, the luncheon clashed with a couple of meetings, and although feeling disloyal, I did not see how I was going to be able to round up three or four people--even for a free lunch. Guiltily, I rang his office and apologized profusely to his secretary for not being able to make it.
The next morning, he telephoned, puzzled and aggrieved.
“There were only going to be the four of us,” he said. “Princess Diana had been looking forward to meeting you properly. She was very disappointed that you couldn’t make it.”
I felt suitably stupid--but, as luck had it, a few weeks later I found myself sitting next to her at a charity dinner at the Garrick Club. I explained the whole disastrous misunderstanding, and we had a very jolly time laughing at the coincidence that she was dining at this exclusive club before her husband, who had just been elected a member with some publicity. Prince Charles was in the hospital at the time recuperating from a polo injury. Although hindsight tells us that the marriage was already in difficulties, that was not generally known, so in answer to my inquiries, she replied sympathetically that he was recovering well.
We talked a lot about the theater and her faux pas some years before when she had been to Noel Coward’s Hay Fever and confessed to the star, Penelope Keith, that it was the first Coward play that she had seen.
“The first,” said Penelope, shocked. “Well,” Diana said to me, “I was only eighteen!”
Our meeting was at the height of the AIDS crisis, and as we were both working a lot for AIDS charities, we had many notes to compare and friends to mourn. The evening ended with a dance--but being no Travolta myself, I doubt that my partnering was the high point for her.
Larry King (The People's Princess: Cherished Memories of Diana, Princess of Wales, from Those Who Knew Her Best)